I've written very little about personal experiences during my nearly 30 years as a journalist. My job is to write about other people. But the traumatic aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is still with many of us and still with me.
So I've decided to share what it's like not to be able to go home. What it's like to watch the abysmally slow process of making a "partial demo" liveable again.
And we are much luckier than most.
Our Bayville home near the Toms River only had about five inches of flood water inside the house, not the several feet others had in places like Good Luck Point, Glen Cove and other central Ocean County homes.
Just ask Township Council President James J. Byrnes, whose Glen Cove home has been deemed a "complete demo." Ask the people on the barrier islands who will have to wait months to rebuild, until electricity and gas return. Ask the people on the barrier islands who may never go back.
But it was enough damage to label our home a "partial demo." I think I can speak for many. I am tired, very tired. Shell-shocked might be a better word.
It's difficult to concentrate because there are so many things to remember, so many things to do. We filed a homeowner's insurance claim, flood insurance claim, FEMA claim.
I'm still not clear on what covers what. My eyes sort of glazed over when it was explained to me. I took notes, like a good reporter, but now can't make out most of what I wrote.
We are on our second dumpster.
All of the carpeting is out of the house. Piles of some of our hardwood floors are dumped in a pile like pick-up sticks, with rusty nails jutting out of them. I pricked my finger on one late Monday and had to make a rush trip to the doctor's for a tetanus shot.
I warned the office staff I was dirty. Muddy pants, disheveled hair, dirty sneakers. And the worst part was, I didn't care what I looked like. I'm too tired to care. So I guess that's a plus.
The daily trip to the house is tough. Hours of packing stuff and dumping stuff. Why did we buy so much stuff? That old saying "buy what you need, not what you want" certainly applies here.
Workers from the remediation company measure the sheetrock four feet up from the floor and slice it out, so the studs can dry out and eventually be treated with a mold preventive.
Giant dehumidifiers and Wind Dryers blow through the house 24 hours a day. The subfloor that's left in some rooms gives ominously when you step on it, the crawl space of the house just an inch or so below.
There are bags and bags and boxes of ruined items at the curbside. We had about 40 by Sunday afternoon. Then we heard a rumble up the street. A very welcome rumble.
The employees of the Berkeley Township Public Works Department were in full tilt boogie mode. The sight of house after house with mounds of refuse didn't faze them. They stopped at our house and chucked as much stuff as they could in the truck. They only stopped when the truck was full.
"We'll be back," one man yelled.
Those guys deserve every penny of overtime they have coming to them, after working 14-to 16-hour days since shortly after Sandy struck.
The dehumidifiers and Wind Dryers must run non-stop at least another three days. Then they will be moved to the kitchen, bathroom and living room after the flooring and subfloors are ripped up.
When everything finally dries out, the electrician will come in and replace the breaker box, any wires that got wet and upgrade the service. Then the gas company has to check things out before turning on the service again. Only after that is all done can new flooring be installed.
So we soldier on.
I'm embarrassed to admit I find myself getting angry at people in checkout lines, listening to them complain about how the cable is still out, or they lost a freezer full of food. We don't even have waterfront property, but we got hammered.
I have to remember that in the past, whenever I heard of some disaster somewhere else in the United States or around the world, I'd say "oh, those poor people," maybe make a donation. It's human nature. If you are not directly affected by something like Hurricane Sandy, it's normal to pause, then get on with your lives.
Two phrases keep running through my head like mantras, over and over. "It's temporary" is the first. "Move inland" is next.